Most of the signs you come across in France will be recognisable from those you are used to seeing at home. For example; the French stop sign shouldn’t confuse you at all. Mostly it will say STOP. A few will say just ARRÊT and to avoid any confusion, plenty will have both.
The Warning Signs
Triangular signs (with a red border and a white background) are warnings. They look like this:
Yellow triangular signs with a red border are temporary warnings.
Circular signs (either with a white border and a blue background, or a red border and a white background) are regulatory signs, that inform you of the laws and obligations governing that section of road.
Square signs (normally with a white border and a blue background) are informational signs:
Rectangular signs with arrows either on or part of the sign, are directional signs, and helpfully they’re also colour-coded:
Blue = autoroute / motorway
Green = major roads
Yellow = temporary roads – often a dreaded detour
White = local roads
Environmental Zone Signs
If you enter one of these zones make sure you have the relevant compliance stickers. See our article on Crit Air
Signs, you might not be so familiar with.
With many countries using the same or similar signs we don’t have to work too hard to guess what they mean. In France though, Priorité a droite is confusing for some.
Getting your Priority Right
Most people have heard of those priority driven traffic rules in France. Stories are told time and again about how they were going along a main road, minding their own business and a car careering out of a side road only just misses them because this crazy Frenchman had the right of way.
If you hear that story, take it with a pinch of salt or at least know that the person telling it is not to be trusted behind the wheel. Anyone paying attention while driving will always be aware of when they have priority and when they don’t. That said, even alert drivers can be surprised by crazy frenchman, there are plenty of them.
But the infamous French roundabouts where the largest vehicles had priority, no matter what. Or where priority was a privilege given only to those drivers rolling a cigarette or swiping right on a dating app are long gone.
Priority appears to be the most well known French motoring rule as well the most misunderstood.
French law requires “When two drivers approach the same intersection on different roads, the driver coming from the left shall be required to give way to the other driver. Unless directed otherwise by a road sign. You should always assume that you give way to the right unless road signs tell you otherwise.
Priority signage looks like this.
So you are approaching a roundabout or junction…It can also look like this.
Other signs make it quite obvious who has priority. The one below has a few different variants. You’ll see them as you approach junctions and they clearly show with the thicker line who has priority. In this example the driver turning right has priority.
Priority on Roundabouts
A few years ago when driving in France roundabouts were most confusing to us Brits. We’d get on the roundabout and then have to slam on the brakes as people joined the roundabout expecting you to let them on. There are still roundabouts like this, road junctions too; but thankfully they are in decline. You still might find some in small towns and villages, so keep em peeled when you do.
Modern French Roundabouts are Nothing to Worry About
These days, just like in the UK, those already on the the roundabout normally have priority.
In France you’ll be giving way to traffic from your left. If it sounds confusing, but it isn’t, you’ll pick it up in no time.
In general, most French roundabout signs will be accompanied by a ‘give way’ sign or the words ‘Vous n’avez pas la priorité‘, which means ‘you don’t have right of way’.
There are certain older style priorty roundabouts in towns where drivers entering the roundabout have priority, but signs will clearly show this to be the case.
If You’ve read this far we’re guessing this will be your first trip to France in your van. If thats the case have a read here before you go Driving on the wrong side of the road in France
Learn the signs before you go
Before you travel to France, head over to Wikipedia, you find most French road signs with explanations there. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_signs_in_France